Let selection of default fonts be based on Noto

[ First posted at the ubuntu-devel mailing list, but discourse it probably more suitable for this topic. ]

Hi all,

I would like to make an overhaul of the selection of fonts we ship by default in the Ubuntu desktop. In short I would like to:

  1. Install the fonts-noto-core package by default

    That package includes sans-serif and serif fonts covering latin as well as a large number of non-latin scripts.

  2. Keep installing the fonts-noto-cjk package by default

    To cover Chinese, Japanese and Korean.

  3. Drop quite a few font packages for non-latin scripts from the seed

    Simply because those scripts would be covered by fonts-noto-core, which typically offers fonts of better quality than the non-latin fonts from various sources we currently include by default.

  4. Keep DejaVu Sans Mono as the default monospace font for most scripts for now

    The quality of the DejaVu monospace fonts seems to be generally good. No urgent need to change it for monospace.

(Please note that I’m not suggesting that we would replace the Ubuntu font in the desktop environment. I’m talking about the default font picked by fontconfig in other contexts, not least web browsing.)

What would the point with this be?

Currently the DejaVu fonts are default for most scripts. Glyphs for a large number of scripts are bundled into the same DejaVu font file. Example:

$ fc-query /usr/share/fonts/truetype/dejavu/DejaVuSans.ttf | grep -E '\blang' | sed 's/[|]/ /g'
lang: aa ab af ar ast av ay az-az az-ir ba bm be bg bi bin br bs bua ca ce ch chm co cs cu cv cy da de el en eo es et eu fa fi fj fo fr ff fur fy ga gd gl gn gv ha haw he ho hr hu hy ia ig id ie ik io is it iu ka kaa ki kk kl ku-am ku-ir kum kv kw ky la lb lez ln lo lt lv mg mh mi mk mo mt nb nds nl nn no nr nso ny oc om os pl pt rm ro ru sah sco se sel sh shs sk sl sm sma smj smn sms so sq sr ss st sv sw tg tk tl tn to tr ts tt tw tyv ug uk uz ve vi vo vot wa wen wo xh yap yi yo zu ak an ber-dz ber-ma crh csb ee fat fil hsb ht hz jv kab kj kr ku-iq ku-tr kwm lg li mn-mn ms na ng nv ota pap-an pap-aw qu quz rn rw sc sd sg sn su ty za(s)

While you can argue that this is convenient, it makes it cumbersome to replace the default font for a particular script with some better default font. /usr/share/fontconfig/conf.avail/56-language-selector-ar.conf is a convoluted way to do that for Arabic, but that works only under an Arabic locale. And many Arabic speaking users prefer to use English as display language.

Changing the default font for sans-serif and serif to Noto for most scripts would improve the situation in two ways:

  1. Typically it would improve the font quality for non-latin scripts. As regards latin I think the quality of the Noto font is well as good as DejaVu.

  2. To the extent we would want to provide non-Noto default fonts for a few scripts, it would be easy to change the font configuration accordingly, and we wouldn’t need to restrict it to certain locales.

It’s worth mentioning that e.g. Fedora and some of our own flavors already use Noto fonts by default. Debian does so too if you install e.g. the GNOME desktop on Debian, since fonts-noto-core is pulled in that case and fontconfig upstream prefers Noto nowadays.

User complaints about too many fonts

There is a discourse topic where some users complain about the large number of fonts currently installed by default. Would this change make those users happy? I’d say ‘yes’ and ‘no’.

I can understand that users who create advanced documents and often need to switch between only a few fonts don’t like the idea with fonts covering a lot of scripts around the world. Apparently the tools for selecting fonts typically show the whole list of installed fonts. So would the proposed change reduce the total number of fonts installed by default? Probably not. I think there would be more of them.

But the good news is that the proposed change would make it much easier for such users to uninstall one or two font packages:

sudo apt purge fonts-noto-core

(I’m assuming that the ubuntu-desktop package would only recommend fonts-noto-core, not depend on it.)

That would leave a significantly smaller number of fonts, where DejaVu would return as the default font for most scripts, and make life easier for advanced content creators.

So how to go about this?

I’m seeking a green light for starting the changes described above in mantic.

As regards the font configuration, the snaps do (or will soon do) that separately, and do not parse the system host’s /etc/fonts/conf.d. So we would need to start with the system, and once there is a decent set of fonts including related font configuration, we would need to copy that into the snaps later.

Looking forward to your response on the proposed changes.


I’m all for for Noto as defaults on its own merits, and if it helps the “too many fonts” issue, then even better!


Coincidentally I think it does — due to the way the Noto fonts are currently packaged in Debian.

As I mentioned, the fonts-noto-core package installs a large number of both latin and non-latin font files. People have argued for splitting it into multiple packages, but that discussion seems to be stalled. The good news for us, in the light of the “excessive fonts” discussion, is that you would be able to reduce the number of installed fonts significantly by uninstalling one single package.

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The Dejavu fonts should be removed completely. They have not been developed further for 7 years and do not support many current Unicode characters and often cause problems with the representation of international alphabets.

Noto Fonts should be preinstalled because they solve many problems with non-Latin alphabets (and also with Latin alphabets with some special characters).

Fedora invested much energy to improve their default font selection:


Well, DejaVu is in the archive and will keep being so for the foreseeable future. There are a couple of reasons why I don’t propose it to be dropped at this time from the selection of fonts installed by default:

  • DejaVu Sans Mono is generally decent, and has proved to be the only well working font in e.g. gnome-terminal for Arabic scripts.

  • Many packages depend on fonts-dejavu-core. Run the command

    apt rdepends fonts-dejavu-core

    to see what I mean. So even if we would stop installing it by default, it would be pulled anyway for many users.

Installing fonts-noto-core by default — in combination with an appropriate font configuration — is sufficient to make Noto be used over DejaVu.


Arabic font rendering looks currently horrible with Dejavu and Ubuntu, especially when it comes to special letters, like Quranic symbols or the letters in the Urdu language. The only solution to solve this problem is to remove Dejavu.

Yes, some packages depend on the dejavu-fonts. So as I said it before it’s a lot of work to get rid of these old fonts, but Fedora did that work and now their font rendering on non-Latin alphabets is great. And I think the work is it worth.

This is an Arabic alphabet (Urdu) sample text on my Ubuntu 22.04 LTS machine (using Dejavu Fonts)

This is how it looks in my Fedora Rawhide VM (with Noto Fonts, it looks better):
Bildschirmfoto vom 2023-07-13 13-13-01

@malsabku: Please let us distinguish between sans-serif and serif fonts on one hand, and monospace on the other hand.

For sans-serif and serif I know that Arabic speaking users prefer Noto over DejaVu, and currently — as a result of this long thread — there is an arrangement in place for supporting Noto for Arabic. Unfortunately that arrangement was broken for the snaps (including the FF snap). But with the changes I have in mind now we will make Noto truly become the default also for Arabic and also for the snaps.

For monospace: When I said that DejaVu Sans Mono is better, I was specifically talking about the rendering of Arabic scripts in certain terminals, most importantly gnome-terminal at the moment. I don’t speak Arabic myself, and consequently have no own opinion on what looks better, so I defer to this bug report and this discourse thread.

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Thanks for your stewardship of fonts in Ubuntu, Gunnar. It is a pleasure to know we have someone like you paying attention to such issues.

A few comments:

You say “typically”. I think it’s clear that noto would be an improvement over DejaVu overall, but we should also have a goal not to introduce regressions even for subsets of our users. What steps will be taken to validate the choice of noto as the default by communities who use particular sets of glyphs? (Latin, and CJK are already addressed; but there are many distinct language communities - as you know - in India and in central and southeast Asia who should be consulted if we’re going to move them from dejavu to noto by default.)

The ubuntu-desktop metapackage currently Depends: on fonts-dejavu-core. I’m not sure that demoting this to a Recommends: is appropriate. It actually introduces the possibility of users breaking their desktop by leaving them with NO matching fonts installed.


Some more scripts have been addressed:

And yes, in an ideal world we should make sure that all affected users agree before implementing the change. But there would be some difficulties with asking first:

  • Hard to find interested Ubuntu users everywhere.

  • Even harder to find such users with sufficient technical skill to be able to test without handholding.

  • Please remember that since the snaps no longer rely on the system host’s /etc/fonts/conf.d, providing the proposed new font configuration in e.g. a PPA wouldn’t help much. Myself plans to use use a conventionally packaged FF to do the necessary tests before committing/uploading the changes to the system. But there will be no appropriate test environment until those changes have been mirrored in the snaps.

    The snaps in Ubuntu 22.04 currently use the font configuration from focal (this is about to be changed to jammy). The snaps in Ubuntu 23.04 and the development version currently use the font configuration from jammy.

So my thought is to be rather bold:

  • Change it in 23.10 — including the snaps used in 23.10 — without asking first.

  • Then, when 23.10 has been released, let’s try to reach out to the affected language communities:

    Hey, the default fonts were changed to Noto fonts in Ubuntu 23.10 for most scripts. Please upgrade to that Ubuntu version and let us know what you think, so we will be able to make possible necessary adjustments before the release of Ubuntu 24.04 LTS.

    (Somehing along those lines…)

The idea is to keep fonts-dejavu-core in “Depends:” for now, so it can serve as fallback, and add fonts-noto-core to “Recommends:”. Please see this comment for one reason to do it like that.

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I just want to share my thoughts just because I’m less technical than almost everyone here :slight_smile:

I don’t think this would be a great improvement for the “too many fonts” issue for non-technical users. I never remove fonts* (or similar) packages because I’m afraid to broke the system as they are not “programs” or other packages installed by me. I’ll probably continue to remove the fonts by hand from the font manager if I won’t find a specific guide on the web.

I’m not saying this change is not useful, I’m just sharing my 2 cents.


@kenvandine: Any chance you can provide some input about the snap implication of these proposed changes? I pinged you the other day on IRC with some somewhat vague questions:


This ties nicely into our refining the installation processes discussion, so thank you @gunnarhj your timing is excellent.

My expertise in fonts is limited, so I’m reliant on the knowledge and insights of others. In general, I’m supportive of this initiative. As you’ve suggested, one possible approach could be accepting the risk in 23.10 and proceeding with these changes. This would provide us with the best opportunity to identify and correct any regressions before 24.04. I’m inclined to lean towards being hasty now, rather than trying to implement this change post-23.10 which doesn’t leave much space to maneuver.

I believe we need a post-upgrade splash screen to highlight “What’s new” and we could use that to highlight this change to users. However, the 23.10 road map is already quite full, making it difficult to incorporate that this cycle … although definitely do-able for 24.04.

Outside of snap are there any potential side effects here?

We won’t have a new core until core24, so we won’t be able to introduce this for snaps until then. The core snaps only follow the LTS schedule. However, I think we could add the noto fonts to gnome-42-2204 as it won’t change anyone’s default but will ensure at least core22 based desktop snaps have the font available in the snap.

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I see two potential side effects:

  1. Even if I have spent some time on investigating if the Noto fonts cover at least the same ranges of Unicode characters as the packages we would stop installing, I may have missed something.

  2. Complaints due to personal preferences. Even if Noto has a good reputaion in general, people in some language areas might prefer some other font for their particular scripts.

Both these will be easy to deal with if/when people call our attention to it.


Hmm… That would be an awfully long time with different fonts in the snaps compared to the system. I really think we should try to work around it somehow (see below).

I don’t think that would make a difference. If I put:

      <family>Noto Sans</family>
      <family>Noto Serif</family>

in ~/snap/firefox/current/.config/fontconfig/conf.d/10-prefer-noto.conf, my Firefox latest/stable/ubuntu-23.10 instantly displays latin sans-serif and serif using Noto, since the fonts-noto-core package is installed for me in mantic. The snaps honor the fonts installed in the system; it’s just the font configuration of the system host they no longer honor.

But now to my idea for a workaround. I created the directory /usr/share/fonts/snap-config-hack and moved the test file 10-prefer-noto.conf into that directory. Then I added the line:

<include ignore_missing="yes">/usr/share/fonts/snap-config-hack</include>

in ~/snap/firefox/current/.config/fontconfig/fonts.conf. That worked. :smile:

So how about letting language-selector-common install such an extra config file in jammy-updates and refresh gnome-42-2204? (What I actually have in mind is a new proposed 56-language-selector-prefer.conf file which would also be located in /etc/fonts/conf.d in mantic, and thus not seen otherwise by the snaps.)

Question: Would it be possible to let desktop-exports write the above line conditionally, i.e. only on 23.10 and 24.04 systems, so we don’t change the behavior in stable releases?

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If desktop-exports writes that snippet for fontconfig, it would just quietly be ignored on systems where that file doesn’t exist on the host. In which case we shouldn’t need to SRU that to jammy, just mantic and later releases will get the preference for noto. Right?

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@kenvandine: You are right, of course. (Somehow, for a moment, I thought that the file needs to be in the snap environment, even if I just had showed that it does not need to be… Stupid me!)

So, if I understand it correctly, we can easily keep the snaps in sync with the system by simply adding a similar snippet for fontconfig as the one we are just about to drop. Nice! :smile:

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I think that’s a reasonable plan; we don’t need to get their sign-off before making the change, but we should be proactive rather than making the change and then hoping that bug reports come in.

I strongly recommend that the outreach list all of the languages and scripts for which we are seeking feedback.


FWIW from a design perspective: Noto is a competent choice that’s boring in the right ways. @gunnarhj has done great analysis here and we have no reason to disagree.